To Declaw or not to declaw... that is the question.
Declawing is a major surgical procedure that involves amputating the bone that is attached to a cat's claws. It is a controversial procedure that has many detractors, including the American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Animal Hospital Association, and many supporters; both sides passionately debate their viewpoints.
Cat claws are like human fingernails and toenails. They are used for balance, climbing, self-defense, and catching prey. Cats will scratch to naturally wear down and maintain their claws. Other reasons for scratching include marking territory, getting a whole body stretch, and experiencing a pleasant sensation.
Indoor cats don't lose their scratching instinct because they're not catching prey or fighting for survival. For pet parents whose cats are scratching just about everything, declawing seems like a reasonable solution to a frustrating (and possibly expensive) problem. So, what's the controversy?
Declawing, called an onychectomy, surgically removes the claw and the bone to which it is attached. Typically, only the front claws are removed. Postoperatively, cats can experience significant pain, lameness, and possible nerve damage. Other declawing complications include infection, refusal to use the litterbox, and behavioral changes. Recovery can take days to weeks.
With so many drawbacks, declawing is strongly not recommended, particularly not as a solution to inappropriate scratching behavior. However, it may be appropriate in certain situations.
Unfortunately, there is no evidence that declawing improves problem behaviors; declawed cats can still end up in animal shelters due to their inappropriate behaviors. That being said, many pet parents who have had their cats declawed believe their cats do just fine without their claws.
The AMVA and AAHA advocate for behavioral modifications, listed below, as alternatives to declawing:
- Providing a variety of scratching materials, such as scratching posts and cardboard boxes
- Rewarding cats for using appropriate scratching materials
- Discouraging inappropriate scratching behavior by blocking access to furniture or making it unappealing (e.g., double sided sticky tape)
- Covering the claws with soft plastic caps
- Trimming the nails every 1 to 2 weeks
These organizations recommend trying all behavioral modifications first. If these modifications are ineffective and the cat is at risk for euthanasia (barring the other reasons listed above), then declawing can be considered.
The declaw procedure is rife with controversy among pet parents and even veterinarians. There are those who are as passionately for it as against it. If your cat's claws have become a target for your ire, talk with your veterinarian. Being educated about cat scratching behavior and the declaw procedure is essential before deciding whether to have your cat declawed.
Looking for more ways to keep your cat healthy? Consider investing in a cat insurance policy.
Nothing in this article should be construed as financial, legal or veterinary advice. Please consult your own advisors for questions relating to your and your pet’s specific circumstances.